Secret Superstars: Super Bowl Preview – Broncos
In the second of two Super Bowl editions of Secret Superstars, Gordon McGuinness identifies four lesser-known Broncos who could impact the Super Bowl.
Secret Superstars: Super Bowl Preview – Broncos
On the back of what will surely be an MVP-award winning, and record breaking, year by quarterback Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos made fairly comfortable work of the rest of the field in the AFC. Despite a couple of hiccups along the way, few would argue against them being deserving of their place in the Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks pose, on paper at least, their most difficult matchup of the year in the season’s biggest game and, despite the big name players on both sides, the game could come down to who can get the most out of their role players. We’ve already highlighted the Secret Superstars from Seattle, so let’s move on and take a look at which under-appreciated Broncos could play a key role in lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Casting our eye over the play of a backup tight end, an almost forgotten former first round draft pick edge rusher, and a defensive and offensive tackle who stepped up brilliantly to cover the loss of other players through injury, here are your Broncos Secret Superstars.
Jacob Tamme, TE
This isn’t the first time we’ve highlighted a tight end in Denver, with Julius Thomas standing out earlier in the season, but his year was so successful that there is nothing secret about him anymore. Jacob Tamme (+6.0) on the other hand, just hasn’t seen enough of the field to put up the sort of numbers that would draw more attention. He’s not going to wow you, but his reliability and familiarity with Manning is something worth making note of ahead of the big game.
Unlike last year, when he was a bigger part of the offense, Tamme has seen just 26 passes thrown his way throughout the regular and post season in 2013. Still, he’s averaging a modest 9.5 yards per reception and has lined up in the slot enough to give the Broncos some versatility with him in the red zone. More importantly, he didn’t drop a single pass this year, highlighting his sure hands. In fact, in his two seasons in Denver he has dropped just one pass from 109 targets. Thomas is clearly the number one tight end in Denver, but don’t be surprised if Manning looks Tamme’s way down near the goal line on Sunday.
Malik Jackson, DT
2013 has seen some stellar play along the Broncos defensive line, with Terrance Knighton having a strong postseason to match a regular season that saw him finish as our ninth highest graded defensive tackle. He’s not the only player at the position who has stood out to us though, with Malik Jackson (+17.8) having a second season that makes you question how he managed to fall to the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Grading positively against the run and as a pass rusher, Jackson recorded 17 tackles which resulted in a defensive stop in 183 snaps against the run, giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 9.3%. He rushed the passer on 364 occasions in the regular season, netting 43 total pressures and a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 9.3. All of that taken into account, Jackson finished in the top 15 of both of those Signature Stats, showcasing how good of an all round player he was this past year.
Robert Ayers, DE
The beauty of Secret Superstars is that they can come in so many different versions. Sometimes it’s a late-round draft pick crying out for more snaps, or sometimes a player who has been typecast in one role performing strongly in another. On rare occasions you’ll even find someone who was drafted in the first round but has been largely forgotten about for one reason or another. That’s the case for Robert Ayers (+8.6), who has found his niche role as a defensive end in the Broncos’ defensive line rotation.
Finishing the 2013 season strong, with a grade of +1.3 or higher in each of his last six games, Ayers has registered 43 total pressures from 314 pass rushing attempts, giving him a PRP of 10.7, tied for seventh among defensive ends. What’s probably more surprising, however, has been his success against the run in limited duty. On the field for a total of 149 snaps in run defense, he has totalled 16 solo tackles resulting in defensive stops, good for a RSP of 10.7%, which is the second-best mark of any 4-3 defensive end this year. It’s been five seasons since he was drafted in the first round back in 2009, but it’s fair to say that he couldn’t have picked a better time, both for himself and the Broncos, to be going through the best run in his career.
Chris Clark, LT
After signing starting left tackle Ryan Clady to a five year, $52.5 million deal in the offseason, the Broncos lost him to a season-ending injury in the Week 2 matchup with the New York Giants. Losing your starting left tackle is tough for any team to take, but the Broncos were able to survive the loss thanks to the play of backup Chris Clark (+16.8), who stepped in and performed at a high level for the team.
A quick glance at his stats will show you that he allowed seven sacks during the regular season but, as we always say, sack numbers can be misleading, with three of those sacks coming in his lowest-graded game as a pass blocker all year, and a total of just 32 pressures allowed in the 2013 regular season. Coming on 605 pass blocking snaps, that gave him a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 95.7, the ninth-best of any left tackle in the league. Manning’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly is a big part of the Broncos’ success, but the play of their offensive tackle shouldn’t be overlooked, especially heading into a Super Bowl where they are going up against a pass rush like Seattle’s.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.